When Gina Cilento decided to write a children’s book she chose her beloved bulldogs, Mitzi and Mia, to be the main subjects. Cilento – who refers to her pooches as "The Girls" – penned and published "Mitzi Boo & Mia, Too: Go To England" after years of working on it.
"It took a long time. I worked on it for several years, but then once I found the voice, I wrote it in the matter of a couple of days," says Cilento. "This is my first book and it’s a labor of love."
The 37-page, full-color softcover is a collection of photographs combined with graphics and drawings. Cilento’s sister, Christin Cilento Ladkey – co-creator of City Tins – assisted with the layout, design and marketing.
"My sister is a marketing genius and she really helped me take the book to the next level," says Cilento.
The story reveals the dogs’ journey to England while they are on assignment for a travel magazine. During their trip, they visit numerous famous British landmarks and come in contact with the queen. Because Mia is more of a diva and Mitzi is forever practical, the two make good travel partners, but also have a few bones to pick with each other.
"It’s a simple, humorous story that teaches kids about traveling and getting along with siblings," says Cilento.
The book is written at a third grade reading level, but Cilento hopes it will appeal to children of all ages – as well as grown ups.
"I’ve been told by adults that it’s laugh-out-loud in parts," says Cilento.
Recently, Three Lions Pub named Mia and Mitzi as its official mascots and will host a meet-and-greet with the dogs on Thursday, Jan. 21, at 4:30 p.m. Cilento will be there, too, signing books. A special bulldog brew will be on tap.
Cilento says Three Lions – as well as Red Lion Pub – plan to host monthly dog-friendly events and that Mia and Mitzi will appear on the restaurants’ kid menus.
The self-published book is currently available at the website, although Cilento hopes to have it in local and chain bookstores soon. A portion of the proceeds go toward animal organizations including Mercy For Animals and People For The Ethical Treatment Of Animals (PETA).
"I wanted to find a small way to help animals in need," says Cilento. "I can’t handle animal cruelty and will always support organizations that protect them."
Cilento plans to open an animal sanctuary in Ozaukee County in the near future. She is in the process of writing a business plan and has secured a board of directors.
"We’re in the beginning stages of the sanctuary and there are a lot of details to work out," she says. "It’s a huge undertaking."
Cilento was born and raised in Milwaukee. She graduated from Nicolet High School. In the late ‘80s she was a member of the Rockabilly band, "The Screaming Lillies."
Cilento, who has a degree in art and art history from Cardinal Stritch, played and taught tennis for 25 years in Oregon and Wisconsin, but after suffering an injury on the court in 2011, was forced to take a break. Suddenly with extra time on her hands, she decided to return to her roots in art and create the book.
"I always had a thing for animals and so I wanted to make something fun and educational for kids," says Cilento.
In the future, Cilento plans to write a series of books chronicling Mitzi and Mia’s adventures, including "Mitzi Boo & Mia, Too: Go To France."
"The coolest part for me is having an idea in my head, and then getting it out of my head into an artistic form that actually helps animals," says Cilento. "I'm obsessed with these girls. They are my kids."
Molly Snyder started writing and publishing her work at the age 10, when her community newspaper printed her poem, "The Unicorn.” Since then, she's expanded beyond the subject of mythical creatures and written in many different mediums but, nearest and dearest to her heart, thousands of articles for OnMilwaukee.
Molly is a regular contributor to FOX6 News and numerous radio stations as well as the co-host of "Dandelions: A Podcast For Women.” She's received five Milwaukee Press Club Awards, served as the Pfister Narrator and is the Wisconsin State Fair’s Celebrity Cream Puff Eating Champion of 2019.